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Woodlock Gags Speech, Again

A story from The Register explains the difference between a Judge in Holland and one in America, when faced with the same situation:

NXP Semiconductor, maker of the cryptographically challenged Mifare card, has also taken legal action to silence researchers who poked holes in fare collection systems used in the Netherlands. A Dutch judge rejected the request.

Opsahl said the EFF planned to appeal the decision, even though a ruling will not be issued in time to save the canceled talk. He said the judge reached a very, very wrong conclusion when using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as grounds for canceling the talk.

“The statute on its face appears to be discussing sending code, programs or similar types of information to a computer,” Opsahl said. “It does not appear to contemplate somebody who’s giving a talk to humans.

Opsahl is referring to US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, who has ordered a gag for three students of MIT who were going to present the Mifare card story yesterday, but in context of the Boston transit system.

Some may remember that Woodlock is the same judge that told antiwar activists that they were “stuck under the tracks”. He ruled against their right to speech because of what he called an “irretrievably sad” post-9/11 world that requires security restrictions.

Woodlock said he had initially assumed that activists were exaggerating when they likened the protest zone near Canal Street to an internment camp. But he said that after touring the area for 90 minutes Wednesday, he concluded that comparison was “an understatement.”


“One cannot conceive of other elements [that could be] put in place to create a space that’s more of an affront to the idea of free expression than the designated demonstration zone,” Woodlock said.

Nonetheless, Woodlock said that unruly demonstrators at other political events have made the precautions necessary to foil protesters who might hurl objects at delegates arriving on buses

The logic is tortured to the point where Woodlock seems to favor a dark authoritarian world as a form of “safety”.

In another example, Woodlock ruled against the free speech rights for three newspapers. These papers argued that speech rights were violated when an Architectural Commission in Boston banned “street furniture” including news racks. Unfortunately for the papers, Woodlock was a student of architectural history and favored the aesthetics and safety of the street more than any individual right:

“While the guideline forces plaintiffs to use distribution means in the district which they find economically unappealing or that they would otherwise not use,” Woodlock said, “this does not change the fact that alternatives to newsracks in the district are available to plaintiffs.”

The conditions might be economically unappealing, also known as financially prohibitive, but the judge said he was unsympathetic because he saw no evidence of expense/damage from the alternatives. Again, logic tortured to the point where you are told to think of possibilities still available to you once your speech is restricted. Maybe a paper can survive without a forum for speech, maybe not, but at least the streets are clean.

Reasons for “an affront to the idea of free expression” seem to be stacking up under Woodlock. Has he ever ruled in favor of free speech? Does he even believe in it? Anyone surprised that this man was nominated to his position by Ronald Reagan, or was a college friend of George W. Bush?

Douglas Woodlock was appointed to the district court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He possessed an interesting pedigree: a couple of high school years at Phillips Academy Andover, a distinguished undergraduate career at Yale, capped by being chosen for the secret society known as Skull and Bones by fifteen club members (including George W. Bush) from the class ahead.

Woodlock’s distance from Bush should not be underestimated. Bush has been a long-time critic of free speech. He is still listed as the #1 Muzzle in The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Bush threatened legal action against individuals who tried to expose or discuss his flaws on the Internet:

In a May 21 press conference, Bush himself stated “[t]here ought to be limits to freedom.


On April 14, 2000, the FEC dismissed the Bush complaint stating, “this matter is less significant relative to other matters pending before the Commission.”

Americans should be ashamed of Woodlock’s decision on this matter.

The gag action on the Boston transit research is an embarrassment to the nation. Consider how the same situation played out in Holland:

The case went to court in Holland and now the court in Arnhem has overturned the injunction citing local freedom of expression laws.

In its ruling, the court said: “Damage to NXP is not the result of the publication of the article but of the production and sale of a chip that appears to have shortcomings.”

In a statement, Radboud University hailed the ruling and said: “…in a democratic society it is of great importance that the results of scientific research can be published”.

These people are clearly intelligent and capable, and this happened PRIOR to Woodlock’s gag order. This means Woodlock must have decided to silence three students presenting the information to their peers despite the fact that it is in the public domain already. Who wants to bet the American judge will say something about how “unfortunate” or “sad” it is that his “hands are tied” or he is “forced” by post-9/11 events to censor and restrict the scientific community for their own “safety”?

Posted in Security.

3 Responses

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  1. Milan says

    Those who rely on secrecy for security tend to fall back on the heavy hand of the state when their original strategy fails.

  2. Milan says

    The bottom of your comment box doesn\’t seem to render in my situation: WIndows XP and Firefox 3. I can only hit the submit button by hitting tab-enter after selecting text in the comment box.

  3. Davi Ottenheimer says

    hmmm, the color scheme seems to have gone awry. will update asap. sorry ’bout that. didn’t think anyone would actually bother to comment. :p

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